Picked this book up on the recommendation of Dan Carlin in his Hardcore History podcast. I've always considered myself a pacifist and this has given me a lot to think about. Not only does it describe what it is like to go to war but also offers thoughts on how the military, parents and wider society should change to reduce spiritual problems of dealing with violence and conflict. Very good.

Your reading activity
Dates 01 September 2012 – 22 September 2012
Time spent reading 6 hours, 25 minutes
Highlights 46
Comments 6
Used app Readmill

Any fool can learn from his mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others. —Otto von Bismarck

I knew I had strong odds of never seeing trees and grass again, just ordinary grass on a freeway median strip—so extraordinarily beautiful. Even today, when I walk on grass I feel as if I’m walking on someone’s skin.

smart people, no matter how fit, don’t go looking for fights with seasoned bar fighters.

We don’t talk about death in our society. Even the chaplains. Even when it’s all around us.

you don’t have to be Jesus Christ to know when someone is pissing on the church floor.

Few on the aircraft were old enough to drink alcohol legally.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

What's the minimum age for drinking on flights? Departure country, destination country, country of origin or something else?

Three days earlier, I had been killing people. Taking someone else’s car to a party without asking was nothing. Three days after stealing the car, I was back in combat.

When it comes time to leave the world of combat behind for the world of “ordinary life,” it is going to be more difficult to do the more we blur the two worlds together. How can you return home if you’ve never left?

In combat you are already over some edge. You are in a fierce state where there is a primitive and savage joy in doing in your enemy.

My feeling now? Oh, the sadness. The sadness. And, oh, the grief of evil in the world to which I contributed.

I’d be talking at work and that face with its angry snarl would suddenly overwhelm me and I’d fight to stay with the person I was talking with. I’d never been able to tell anyone what was going on inside. So I forced these images back, away, for years.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Such a shame. There must be so many veterans from conflicts who live with horrors all their lives and have no mechanism or structure to deal with them.

Killing in war isn’t always the morally clean “it was them or me” situation which we so often hear about and which I have described. The more technically sophisticated we get, in fact, the less common this situation will become, and the more problematic the morality.

“Nape” is napalm, jellied gasoline, a horrific incendiary substance invented during World War II that sticks to its targets, such as human flesh, and is used in flamethrowers and bombs.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Just awful.

The ideal response to killing in war should be one similar to a mercy killing, sadness mingled with respect.

So ask the now twenty-year-old combat veteran at the gas station how he felt about killing someone. His probable angry answer, if he’s honest: “Not a fucking thing.” Ask him when he’s sixty, and if he’s not too drunk to answer, it might come out very differently, but only by luck of circumstance—who was there to help him with the feelings during those four long decades after he came home from war.

The less clear the justifiable motives, the more difficulty returning veterans will have with guilt.

The least acknowledged aspect of war, today, is how exhilarating it is.

Part of us loves to destroy.

I loved this power. I love it still. And it scares the hell out of me.

When I returned from the war I would wake up at night trying to understand how I, this person who did want to be a good and decent person, and who really tried, could at the same time love an activity that hurt people so much.

Walk through a burned-out village where the dogs haven’t been fed and you hear them eating the dead.

Bless these dead, our former enemies, who have played out their part, hurled against us by the forces that hurled us against them. Bless us who live, whose parts are not yet done, and who know not how they shall be played. Forgive us if we killed in anger or hatred. Forgive them if they did the same. Judgment is Yours, not ours. We are only human.

It’s not the activity itself that’s in question so much as the self-righteous attitude that one brings to the activity.

When you’re truly in the valley of the shadow of death, then, if you can become the meanest motherfucker in the valley, you will indeed try.

When we meet the next test, we can meet it only with the character we have at the time, and in this way we aren’t free. Our freedom lies in the fact that we can continually work to improve our character.

We punish with compassion and understanding. War is cruel. People crack under its pressure. But we punish—and we try to help the one who failed to unravel the complex feelings afterward.

who’s going to end up running the place? A bunch of lying bastards. It’s actually your moral duty to keep up.

Luckily, for me, the battalion commander was killed and the report must have gotten lost or thrown away by some wiser officer.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Not so lucky for him!

It is the lie of two minds that is the most dangerous.

We lie because we find ourselves in positions where it appears the truth will hurt us. But a truth isn’t a thing like a flying rock. So by “hurt us” we must mean it will hurt some goal toward which we strive. And we’ve managed to confuse that goal with a definition of ourselves.

What one thinks about Nuremberg will have a great deal of influence on what one thinks about following orders.

There are very few officers who want to have the question of whether or not they are stupid asses debated in a court-martial.

There is an argument that by following the polls, politicians are only doing what the people want. It is after all a democracy. Where this breaks down is when the people want something stupid.

Other lives are worth risking your own life for. Generals’ timetables that don’t have lives at stake are not.

I’ve jumped out of airplanes, climbed up cliff sides, raced cars, done drugs. I’ve never found anything comparable. Combat is the crack cocaine of all excitement highs—with crack cocaine costs.

The only people who will ever know the value of the ribbons on their chests are the people wearing them—and even they can fool themselves, in both directions.

The homecoming soldier may want to make love to any woman who moves, but any young man who hasn’t seen a woman for even a few days wants to do the same.

we should have come home by sea. We should have had time to talk with our buddies about what we all had shared.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Simple things. Brilliant idea.

When my mother shook me awake late the next morning, she tells me I reached out and tried to choke her. I don’t remember this.

“Oh yeah, evil spirits,” Bear said, as if I were describing a termite problem. “Here’s what you do.”

Most people seem to need a club of some kind

My experience of war is 95 percent things to complain about, 4 percent things to be ashamed of, and about 1 percent things to brag about. So if the code is don’t complain, you’re left with very little to talk about.

If it were all bad, there would be much less of it, but war simply isn’t all bad. Why do kids play war games? Why do adults enter professions such as ambulance driver, search and rescue, firefighter? Because these activities lift you from your limited world.

There are times when physical aggression is an appropriate response. When you meet the serial killer on the jogging path, words are going to fail you.

What needs to be taught is that the aggressor must stop when the opponent asks for the fighting to stop.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

This whole section actually contains some very good parenting advice! Didn't expect to find this here.

The bottom of the pile is the best place to learn empathy.